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America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare

America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare. By Joel Brenner. The Penguin Press; 320 pages, $27.95

There is virtually no aspect of our daily lives that is not controlled by, stored on, or developed using a computer program. Too often, cybersecurity is underappreciated or treated as overblown paranoia. The topic has been discussed at the highest levels of government, at security conferences, and even at the local level for years. In spite of this, it is painfully clear we do not fully appreciate the extent of risk nor are we implementing the necessary safeguards.

Author Joel Brenner discusses lessons learned from his work in government intelligence positions: “The electronic intelligence services of the Chinese and Russians are working us over, taking advantage of our porous networks and indifference to security to steal billions of dollars’ worth of military and commercial secrets.”

If the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies are vulnerable, what does that say about the security of private industry, local infrastructure, and our personal information? Brenner asserts that government and corporations reside in a “glass house” in terms of transparency where secrecy and security are illusions.

The book starts with an overview of the problem, including the loss of intellectual property, military secrets, and personal information from a broad range of digital thieves that include state and nonstate actors. The book progresses from a primer on cybercrime to chapters on defense, national security, and the government. Common themes include the notion that the same dangers apply at all levels.

The final chapter, “Managing the Mess,” sums up what needs to be done to protect our future—closing the gaps in digital vulnerabilities. Brenner includes a variety of steps that need to be implemented by management in concert with the appropriate cyber expertise. He makes it clear that the operational changes must be institutionalized by senior management and deployed all the way down to the street level.

The book is current, easily understood, and logically organized. Examples from the military, civilian, and corporate domains are provided, illustrating the significant vulnerabilities as well as practical solutions. Some of the material is not new. Nevertheless Brenner presents the topic with a welcome freshness and shares insights gleaned from his years as one of the nation’s leading experts in cyber threats. While the solutions he suggests are broad, they are a good start.

Although experienced security executives will likely be familiar with many of the issues discussed, they will find Brenner’s suggestions useful. Moreover, the concepts presented would benefit a wide readership including the nonsecurity professional.

Reviewer: Dr. Robin McFee is a security and preparedness consultant specializing in emerging threats as well as a physician/toxicologist. A speaker at national and international conferences, she has written many articles on security, terrorism and health-related issues, as well as two books: Toxico-Terrorism and Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agent Exposures. Dr. Mc­Fee is the chair of the ASIS International Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.